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February 24, 2003

Sound and Fury

Why do people think the peace movement is a threat to the Iraqi war? Why is debating the relative numbers of marchers in a particular protest important? After all, it's not like a significant number of these protesters were planning on voting Republican in 2004 to begin with, or for that matter ever have. Their votes in the next election might as well already be tallied. The only question is whether those votes go in the Democratic column, or that of the Greens.

If George Bush doesn't realize it, then Karl Rove certainly does. The Bush administration could announce immediately that the U.S. was withdrawing all forces from the Middle East, and it wouldn't matter. The protestors aren't voting for him next time, no matter what. All a withdrawal would do is alienate the hawks, who mostly think he's too much of a wobbly accommodationist as it is.

The peace movement in the U.S. needs about 5 million more activists before their numbers begin to matter at all to the Bush administration, and the only way the movement will get to that level of participation is if the Iraqi war is bloody and drawn out. If that happens, Bush is doomed in 2004 anyway. He would be unelectable, as Johnson was in 1968. It's a sad commentary on a movement that calls itself peaceful when an Iraqi quagmire is the best chance it has to move up from impotency to redundancy.

The number of European protestors matter even less than do the number of American ones. At least our native peaceniks have a chance at influencing the outcome of an election. Thirty million French and Germans could march and chant every day for the rest of the month, and the only impact they would have would be on global warming. They can't vote in our elections, so Bush is not going to pay attention to them. That the Democrats do is a fairly accurate measure of that party's decline in political acumen.

When it comes to heading off the Iraqi war, anti-war protestors have one insurmountable obstacle between them and the success of their movement. George Bush is not a Democrat, and historically the American peace movement has only had an impact on Democrats, because the peace movement has been dominated by the left since the Vietnam war. Republicans may have had to deal with isolationists in the past, but the isolationist point of view tends to differ rather dramatically from that of the peace movement, especially as regards the role of the United Nations, and its candidates have had little success. The Democratic peace candidates, on the other hand, regularly gain the presidential nomination of their party, even if they tend to lose rather badly in the general election.

When the peace movement sneezes, Democrats catch cold. Republicans don't even hear anything.

Protests against the war in Vietnam helped to bring down Lyndon Johnson in 1968, and helped make George McGovern the Democratic nominee in 1972. Both elections were won by a Republican, Nixon, who in the face of regular peace demonstrations not only took 7 years to fulfill his campaign promise of the war's "Vietnamization", but expanded the war into Cambodia.

The next elected Republican, Ronald Reagan, was confronted with the nuclear freeze movement, which in 1982 was strong enough to turn out a million people for a protest in Central Park. He ignored it, then killed it when his administration suggested the movement was bankrolled by the Soviets. Walter Mondale, the Democratic nominee in 1984, endorsed the idea of a nuclear freeze and went on suffer the worst electoral loss in U.S. history.

Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic nominee, was a member of the nuclear freeze movement, and suffered the same fate.

In 1991, 75,000 protestors marched on the first Bush White House just prior to Desert Storm. Thousands of others held a peace vigil the night before the bombs dropped. Two days later the movement was dead.

Bush lost the next election, not because of the war, but because he alienated the right wing of his party, and the economy went down the toilet on his watch. It's telling that the man who defeated him, Bill Clinton, dressed himself in the mantle of the Vietnam era peace movement while essentially ignoring the peace movement's positions on Iraq and Kosovo during his presidency. He became the only Democrat elected to two terms since Harry Truman.

At this point, the only chance George Bush has of being elected to a second term is to defeat Saddam. Backing down now would shatter his base of support within his own party, and ensure another primary challenge, probably from John McCain at the very least. His path to re-election lies through Baghdad.

Posted by Bigwig at February 24, 2003 11:19 PM | TrackBack
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